28 June 2016

Terminological consistency #5: Metonyms et al.

I wish I had read Matthew Kushinka's excellent article À Propos: Synonyms in French under the ATA French Language Division's À Propos rubric before starting this series of posts on Terminological consistency.

Matthew found the terms and examples that my pieces lacked. The good news, I think, is that we are thinking about the same issue from parallel perspectives.

A metonym is a figure of speech in which a person or thing is called by another name rather than its own. (Think about how many times you’ve seen l’Elysée used to refer to the French government.)
I was pleased to see that Matthew's best example of multiple stand-ins in French is drawn from a piece of science writing for the general public, a text type that I see a form of technical journalism:
Mais le comble ? In an article in Science & Vie magazine by French science writer Lise Barnéoud titled Vers la fin des grands arbres, les grands arbres are referred to in almost twenty different ways: as doyens de la nature, maîtres de l’espace et du temps, rois des forêts, and titans ligneux, to name a few. (You can read my post 18 Ways to Say ‘Large Trees’ in French for the other phrasal synonyms that she uses.)
Matthew goes on to say:
Unfortunately, I don’t have any data on “synonym density” between French and English. (Corpus linguists, consider that an idea for your next academic paper!) But I suspect that the French use synonyms, metonyms, and other lexical stand-ins more frequently than Americans.
Like Matthew, I suspect that the French make greater use of metonyms and other lexical stand-ins than English-mother-tongue writers of the text types under discussion. And I too would like to read some serious corpus-based research confirming or disproving this hypothesis.
And if anyone wants to take the concept even further, it would be fascinating to see languages ranked according to this criterion.

18 Ways to Say ‘Large Trees’ in French includes literal translations of the 18 stand-ins for les grands arbres used in Lise Barnéoud's Vers la fin des grands arbres.

When it comes to translating text types that may make greater use of metonyms and lexical stand-ins in either the source or target language (journalism, political discourse or management speak are three text types that come quickly to mind), I believe that today's theories of terminology, not to mention the supposed benefits of CAT/TenT termbases, leave much to be desired.
CAT: computer-assisted translation
TenT: translation environment tool

1 comment:

  1. Comments from trusted colleagues:

    This avoidance of repetition is also common in German (e.g. Hamburg = "the metropolis on the Elbe" = "the Hanseatic port" = "the city state" etc.). I urge students not to obsess over translating metonyms as the resulting English is likely to be stilted. In any case, many such lexical stand-ins presume cultural knowledge that target-language readers usually lack.

    The greater use of metonyms by Germans also overlaps with their dogged avoidance of pronouns in some types of German writing. Instead of repeating a noun (or using a stand-in) in an adjoining sentence, I find that a simple "it" or "she" or "they" often does the trick in English.
    ... the Scandinavian languages too seem more than happy to repeat the same noun time and time again in a sentence or paragraph where English would naturally replace it with a pronoun.


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After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...